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How to get rid of mildew smell in your home

Updated on November 15, 2023
Written by
Paul Allen
Paul is a staff writer for HouseFresh, with a focus on product recommendations and advice for smokers and apartment dwellers. He started writing in November 2020, when he joined the content production team at NeoMam Studios (our parent company).

The key to ridding mildew smell from your home is to increase ventilation and eliminate the excess moisture that provides a fertile environment for mildew to grow.

Airing out moisture hotspots in your home will allow water vapor to escape while giving you a blast of fresh-smelling air. 

As this isn’t always an option, investing in a dehumidifier will help regulate moisture levels and prevent mildew from growing in the first place. An air purifier equipped with Activated Carbon filters can eliminate any lingering odor. 

The smell of mildew is unmistakable. A marauding musty aroma that sends your senses flashbacks of wet gym kits left to fester in school bags or the stale stench of a long-forgotten basement. If you have mildew growing somewhere in your home, you’ll know about it. 

If there is a buildup of mildew in your home, but you’re not sure where it’s coming from, the first step is to follow your nose and look for some of the most likely suspects around your home. 

Start your search by eliminating some of the most common odor sources. 

For example: 
🧦 Dirty socks hiding under the bed 
👕 Sweaty gym kit you forgot to wash

These items can often be damp after you’ve worked up a sweat throughout the day and can quickly begin to pong as moisture and bacteria start to spread. If this sounds familiar, be sure to clear the backlog of laundry, completing a few sniff tests along the way to see if you can identify the musty smells of mildew.  

If mildew odor persists, there may be a more severe root cause. Mildew is found where water can collect, leak and stagnate. 
Ares you should investigate: 

🧻 Bathroom
🍳 Kitchen
🧺 Utility area
🚿 Underneath sinks
🪈 Around pipes
🍽️ Behind appliances such as the washing machine or dishwasher. 

If you spot any pools of water or signs of water damage, mildew will likely lurk in the same area. 

How to get rid of mildew smell

Once you’ve tracked down the problem, it’s time to eliminate the stink. 

STEP 1: Increase ventilation 

Fling open windows and doors and utilize ceiling fans or your HVAC system if possible. This will enable you to breathe fresher air as you combat the source of mildew head-on, using these tried and tested tips:

STEP 2: Clean the problematic area 

Once you’ve found a mildew buildup, don your favorite PPE (gloves, mask and glasses are all advisable) and choose your preferred cleaning solution. 

  • Household bleach, a mold remover spray and a good measure of elbow grease should be enough to remove mildew.
  • White vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda make excellent chemical-free alternatives, especially for upholstery or carpets, which can soak up odors easily.

STEP 3: Invest in a dehumidifier 

Moisture is produced from everyday household activities, such as taking a steamy shower, preparing meals or leaving laundry to dry indoors. By using a dehumidifier, you’ll see an immediate reduction in moisture levels inside your space, cutting off the lifeblood mildew needs to survive. 


We recommend the Midea Cube 35 pint smart dehumidifier for spaces up to 3,500 sq. ft.

STEP 4: Use an air purifier 

Any mildew-ridden home will also suffer from poor air quality. Mold and mildew spores are light enough to suspend in the air, causing allergy-like symptoms and exacerbating respiratory conditions if inhailed. 

An air purifier will help restore your air quality to healthy standards and eradicate unpleaent odors, once you’ve eliminated the mold or mildew buildup.

With the right unit in your home, you can significantly improve ventilation, all while capturing harmful pollutants, such as mold and mildew spores, in their tightly woven HEPA filters.

To eliminate unpleasant odors, choose a purifier equipped with an Activated Carbon filter. Remember that the more carbon found in the filter, the better the purifier will be at removing odors. 

How to get rid of musty smells in your basement

You might find that the mildew smell affecting their home comes from your basement. 

This is certainly not uncommon, as basements suffer the poor misfortune of being underground, meaning they are susceptible to flooding and moisture transfer from the surrounding earth and commonly being poorly ventilated, creating a raft of issues with condensation.

Being such moisture-rich environments results in basements being a hotbed for mildew. To eradicate the smell of this musty growth requires some hands-on action. 

First, you’ll need to address where excess moisture is coming from.  

  1. Fix any leaky pipes
  2. Repair ductwork and drainage that may be flooding the basement 
  3. Clear gutters of any leaves or blockages to prevent water running down your walls
  4. Wrap exposed pipes with foam to reduce condensation
  5. Seal any gaps in external windows and doors
  6. Fill any cracks in external walls and apply a damp-proof membrane to affected surfaces.

Once you’re confident the basement is watertight, you can begin to tackle your mold or mildew problem. 

Scrub any affected surface while taking care not to touch or inhale spores directly. A detergent or cleaning solution should suffice, but thoroughly dry the area once the mildew is removed.


With the source of the odor removed, you may now want to take preventive measures to stop it from returning. The best way to keep mold and mildew at bay is to utilize a tried and tested dehumidifier that can eradicate moisture whenever it strikes and keep your basement odor-free. 


If you have a mildew smell that won’t budge, consider getting an air purifier on the task. 

Final thoughts 

Mold is everywhere. In the air we breathe, in the soil in our gardens and even in that pongy cheese stashed away in the back of your fridge. Despite its bad reputation, mold is a naturally occurring fungus that plays an essential role in nature, helping to break down organic matter such as dead leaves and fallen trees, fertilizing the earth and promoting new growth. 

But there’s no denying another, darker side to Mold’s story. Most of us will have experienced this furry substance plaguing our homes at some point. Sometimes appearing green, orange, or, in worst cases black, mold often crops up in bathrooms, basements, or flood-damaged areas. 

But by following the tips above, you have no reason to live with it.  


About the author

Paul Allen

Paul is a staff writer for HouseFresh, with a focus on product recommendations and advice for smokers and apartment dwellers. He started writing in November 2020, when he joined the content production team at NeoMam Studios (our parent company).